A Midlife Fire
Deep in the heart of academia, work a myriad of CF researchers dedicated to finding the next big advancement in the treatment of cystic fibrosis. These men and women are frequently sequestered from the day-to-day lives of patients. For CF researcher Jeff Wine, Ph.D., however, the search for a cure is profoundly personal.
In 1981, Wine was an associate professor in Stanford University’s psychology department, and his life was marching along just as he had planned. The well-respected physiological psychologist held a tenured position in one of the nation’s leading psychology departments, and he and his wife, Marlene, had just had their first baby.
The couple had no idea that their baby’s salty skin was anything out of the ordinary, until they mentioned the fact to their pediatrician. What unfolded next for the family was anything but normal, and would alter their lives — professionally and personally — forever.
Following his daughter’s CF diagnosis, at six months old, Wine withdrew to the halls of Stanford’s medical library and began his research odyssey into cystic fibrosis. He joined the Bay area’s Cystic Fibrosis Research Inc. (CFRI), where fellow members quickly brought him up to speed on the state of CF research.
“Interacting with them, constantly being updated on new information, made me realize there was a tremendous need for research,” Wine says.
That’s when Wine did the unthinkable. In a profession where the building blocks of research cement one’s position, where scholarly publications in a particular field of expertise toll the bells of success, the widely recognized expert in the field of neurophysiology switched his focus, and his life’s work, to cystic fibrosis research.
“There are good reasons why most people don’t make this kind of switch,” Wine admits. “There were a number of consequences that slowed my career down, but that seemed less important at the time. I never regretted the decision.”
The move not only posed difficult for Wine professionally, it also called for personal sacrifice. Transitioning into a completely new arena called for demanding hours. Eventually, Jeff was invited to spend a sabbatical working in the lab of well-known CF researcher, Paul Quinton. It was a fantastic opportunity, but it meant leaving his wife home with, by this time, one toddler and a new baby.
“The burden on my wife was enormous,” remembers Wine. “We’d just had our second daughter and, for seven months, my wife would drive me to the airport on Sunday nights, and then come back and get me on Friday nights.”
Now, nearly three decades later, his first daughter is 28, in good health, and living abroad; his second daughter, who does not have cystic fibrosis, is in college. Jeff has chiseled out a leadership role in the CF research community and, in October 2008, he delivered the main plenary lecture at the North American Cystic Fibrosis Conference to more than 3500 people.
While Wine’s story is unusual, there is one thing he shares with his CF colleagues. Like the Stanford professor, they are deeply dedicated individuals, spurred on by a passion that will only be thoroughly quenched when a cure is finally realized.